Friday, January 25, 2008

Would JJ like AY? An exhaustive "no"

Would Jane Jacobs approve of Atlantic Yards? I've written before about how the planners behind the project certainly were not unmindful of the Jacobsian qualities for a healthy city, but the project really wouldn't qualify. And I also wrote about the AY angle regarding the Jane Jacobs exhibit.

Now urban planner and lawyer Michael D.D. White ups the ante, with an essay and chart in the Brooklyn Paper concluding that AY would be very, very not Jacobsian.


  1. Here are all 47 Criteria that were used to examine the project:

    47 Criteria used and findings- (full analysis availble)
    1. Avoidance of Regimentation? NO:
    2. Avoidance of Monopolistic Centers of Real Estate? NO:
    3. Avoidance of Monotony? NO:
    4. Appropriate Density? NO:
    5. Uses Parks as Focal Points? NO:
    6. Has Intricacy of Park Design? NO:
    7. Parks Are Designed with Desirable Centers? NO:
    8. Parks Are Designed So Sun Shines Within Them? NO:
    9. Park Design Makes Use of “Enclosure” to Define Park Space? NO:
    10. Building Creates Close-grained Weave of City Fabric? NO:
    11. Project Will Be Developed Gradually Working with City Fabric? NO:
    12. Avoidance of Projects Being Apart from Weave of City Fabric? NO:
    13. Project Participates in City Fluidity? NO:
    14. Project Creates Population Diversity? NO:
    15. Project Has Building Age Diversity with a Close-Grained Mingling? NO:
    16. Will There Be a Concentrated Diversity of Use? MAYBE NOT:
    17. Avoidance of Harmful Parking Lots? NO:
    18. Improved Mass Transit Bus Service by Avoidance of One-Way Streets? MAYBE NOT:
    19. Avoidance of Harmful Large and Heavy Trucking Depots? MAYBE NOT?:
    20. Avoidance of Harmful Gas Stations? MAYBE YES/MAYBE NO:
    21. Avoidance of Harmful Gigantic Outdoor Advertising? NO:
    22. Avoidance of Enterprises and Uses Harmful Because the Scale Is Wrong? NO:
    23. Protection Against Self-Destruction of Diversity of Building Use? NO:
    24. Avoidance of “Border Vacuums?” NO:
    25. Convert Borders to Seams? NO:
    26. Allowing People to Move up the Ladder Through “Unslumming”? NO:
    27. Use of Empiricism and Curiosity to Determine and Work with Actual Facts and Reality? NO:
    28. Observes the Goal of Creating Political Access (Including the Goal of Countering Public Money Expenditures)? NO:
    29. Using Public Participation in Shaping Cities? NO:
    30. Avoidance of Cataclysmic Money? NO:
    31. Making Good Use of Gradual Money? NO:
    32. Is Eminent Domain Being Used in a Way That the Full Cost of it Is Reckoned and Paid For? NO:
    33. Is Eminent Domain Being Used with Restraint? NO:
    34. Is Eminent Domain and its Threat Being Used Only with Full and Proper Public Comprehension? NO:
    35. Is Eminent Domain for Greed Being Avoided? NO:
    36. Best Way to Subsidize Dwellings? NO:
    37. Avoidance of Surges of People in Limited Time Frames? NO:
    38. Does Project Represent Healthy Decentralization and City Economics? NO:
    39. Keeping Blocks Short and Creating Extra Streets to Help Do So? NO:
    40. Avoidance of Superblocks? NO:
    41. Efforts to Use Sidewalks Well? NO:
    42. Creating Visual Closures with Bends and Irregularities in Street Grid? NO:
    43. Use of Landmarks: (Which Are Not Necessarily Created by Size)? PROBABLY NO:
    44. Going Beyond Appearance and Pretty Pictures to Actual Function? NO:
    45. Keeping Artificial Architectural Exhibitionism at Bay? NO:
    46. Does the Project Involve Good Deployment of Available Resources? NO:
    47. Building Buildings that relate to the streets and sidewalks with stoops and windows creating a system of “eyes”and participation in a “ballet” of the streets based interest and a weave of trusting relationship? N/A?:

  2. The entire Report Card is 23 pages of material. The lead-in to the report in addition to the 47 criteria is as follows:


    The following is a Jane Jacobs evaluation report card of the Atlantic Yards project. All of the criteria for the report card have been distilled from Jane Jacobs book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (1961). Some of the criteria involves overlaps which is quite natural since Jane Jacobs saw city systems as intricate relationships and interconnections affecting and sometimes generating each other, analogous in certain ways to human physiology and biology. Though some arguably imply or result in the others, I have broken down as many discrete principles as possible. I have not given comparative weight to the principles but since the project scores badly across the board this does not make a difference in coming to an overall assessment. Jane Jacobs herself highlighted four main criteria (p.150, 151) which are very well known. They are all represented below and most guidance she offers is somehow related to them, but the report card does not confine itself to just those four broad principles. By extracting and using all 47 identified standards, the report card tests more deeply and more completely. It also winds up applying what are often principles Jane Jacobs integrated from other thinkers who had thought competently about the same problems she was addressing.

    The four main principles Jane Jacobs herself identified as the most important points this book her book had to make are (in summary) that:

    • There should be mixed uses and functions that ensure that people are using the outdoors on different schedules and, as much as possible, are using facilities available in common.

    • Most blocks should be short and streets and opportunities to turn frequent.

    • There should be a good close-grained mingling of buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones.

    • There should be a sufficiently dense concentration of people which should include people who are present because of residence.

    This report card rates Atlantic Yards almost entirely negatively by these Jane Jacobs criteria. It could be that I failed to extract some criteria within Jane Jacobs book that would yield a few positive assessments I missed. Arguably, I failed to apply some of these criteria as favorable to the project as I could or should. I don’t think either of these things is the case but people are free to raise specific quibbles. It is also possible that some of the standards Jane Jacobs suggests be followed arguably don’t make sense. Some have sought to “debunk” Jane Jacobs, but today her teachings and those of William H. Whyte are ingrained in the work of mainstream firms like Beyer Blinder Belle, the architectural firm which did the recent restoration work of Grand Central Station.

    There is also the question of whether Jane Jacobs’ ideas should be treated as any form of “gospel” something she herself would have questioned, though she would have readily endorsed the use of her ideas by those endeavoring to see for themselves and use common sense to reach their own conclusions. Based on things Jane Jacobs said about herself in life I was tempted to add a standard (in line with her constant empirical questioning) that people, including Ms. Jacobs should regard themselves as fallible and capable of mistakes. People need to know they are not God. Were this added as criteria #48 the project would not score well on it. Jane Jacobs knew that big plans tend to lead to big mistakes. It is far from clear that the megadeveloper of the Atlantic yards project adequately comprehends his mistakes or ability to make them. In the face of this, Jane Jacobs, although believing in her own fallibility, was famous for being right when the too many others had gotten it wrong.

    If this report card is only so much as just mostly correct, then this megadevelopment, shiny, new and expensive, can be expected to have a severely blighting effect on Brooklyn and city in which it is located. What it does and doesn’t do should be measured against the much better alternatives open to us.